Dec.27 (GMM) Toto Wolff has admitted for the first time that Valtteri Bottas is a "possibility" to replace Nico Rosberg at Mercedes.
Sources in Spain report that Williams is pushing for the German marque to reduce its engine bill to zero, in exchange for Finn Bottas' eleventh-hour release.
But Mercedes' Wolff denied that Bottas has already been gifted the ultimate Christmas present.
"It's too early to say," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "We have not yet made a decision, because it involves more than one driver and one team. And we have respect for the other teams.
"Valtteri is a possibility but we also know how important he is for Williams. It's a delicate situation which requires us to move cautiously, so we decided to take a bit of time," Wolff added.
But the Austrian played down claims that if Bottas is signed, a conflict of interest and an unfair situation for Lewis Hamilton would be created, because the Finn is managed by Wolff himself.
"I'm not an idiot," Wolff insisted. "When I started with Daimler four years ago, I made a deal that I cannot manage or have business interests with a Mercedes driver.
"Those who talk about a conflict of interest are illiterate about F1," he added.
But there is already tension with Hamilton, with the Briton suggesting recently he will no longer accept the pre-season loss of key mechanics and engineers from his side of the garage.
"This is an old story," Wolff responded. "He understood why we moved in that direction, and I understood his side from the psychological point of view."
On other matters, Wolff also commented on Ferrari's situation after sections of the press questioned the famous marque's decision to let James Allison go and not push hard to sign Paddy Lowe.
"They are focusing on an Italian team," said Wolff, "which for me is an added value, not a brake.
"I am convinced that the decisions taken by Marchionne and Arrivabene are moving in the right direction."
And on the topic of future Mercedes tests, Wolff raised the possibility of some exciting names getting into the cockpit.
"I am aware that F1 is also a show," he said. "I'd really like to test the abilities of (Valentino) Rossi and (Sebastien) Ogier in our cars. Yes, my idea is to organise a day with them."
Michael Schumacher's son Mick, meanwhile, will enter European F3 next year, amid speculation he is the next young star on Mercedes' sights for F1.
"Mick is a great guy and an excellent pilot," said Wolff. "His family is there in his heart but it's fair that he focuses on F3 now.
"If he does well, many teams will have their eyes on him, and Mercedes will be one of them."